Skip to main content

Object Research: Provenance

What is Provenance?

From the French word provenir, which means "to come from," provenance is the history of ownership of a valued object, such as a work of art 

Why do we conduct provenance research?

  • Tp establish a work's authencitiy, that is it was really painted by who we think it was painted by
  • To establish the legitimate owner of a work of art, especially if the work was possibly looted or stolen 
  • To understand the history of the object for purposes of display, conservation and cultural importance. Who owned a work, especially if they are a famous collector can be just as important in terms of the history of an object.

Where do you find provenance?

Provenance research is found in many different places. it is in many ways very different from other art history research. Resources such as dealer's records, collection inventories, military reports, legal proceedings, newspaper articles and museum records can be useful for establishing provenance.

Catalogues Raisonnes

Catalogues Raisonnes are vital sources for research provenance and for identifying works of art. The CU Boulder library has an extensive collection, try searching for artists plus "catalogue raisonne" or "complete works". However, since these are expensive and sometime produced in limited quantities there will be some that we don't have, for those you can search the IFAR database, and request items through Worldcat and interlibrary loan.

Key Libraries and Databases

Useful Books & Journals

Archives

Archives contain primary sources such as letters, records, and other documents, organized into collections, that can be navigated by finding aids. The archival collections of galleries and museums are often essential to provenance research. You may need to first figure out which archive may have collections relevant to your search.